• Muskox

    Category: Wildlife

    Despite being named the muskox, this animal is more closely related to sheep and goats than oxen. They are one of the largest members in the subfamily Caprinae, and are known (and named) for their musky odor, which males use to attract mates. Muskoxen live in the far north of North America, with introduced populations in northern Europe.

    Muskox

    Muskox

    Scientific & Common Names

    Kingdom - Animalia

    Phylum - Chordata

    Class - Mammalia

    Order – Artiodactyla

    Family – Bovidae

    Subfamily – Caprinae

    Genus - Ovibos

    Species – O. moschatus

    Common Name – Muskox, Musk-Ox, Musk Ox. May be two subspecies, the White-Faced Muskox (O. m. wardi) and the Barren Ground Muskox (O. m. moschatus)

    Characteristics

    Muskoxen have thick, shaggy coats and long, curving horns. They can be up to 5 feet high and 8 feet long. Their coats are a mixture of gray, brown and black. Occasionally, muskoxen are born with all white fur. Their fur and horns often make them appear bigger than they actually are.

    Breeding

    During the mating season, male muskoxen give off a strong odor to attract and impress females. The males fight amongst themselves to win mates. After the rutting season while the females gestate, they become more aggressive and assume leadership roles over the herd. Gestation lasts 8 or 9 months.

    Behavior

    Muskoxen travel in herds, with older animals exerting dominance over younger ones. They roam the Arctic tundra eating moss, roots and lichen. They have a unique defensive behavior when the herd is threatened: the adults will gather in a circle facing outward, protecting the young who remain in the center of the circle. Their predators include wolves, and rarely polar bears. Muskoxen typically move slowly, but are capable of short bursts of speed up to 25 miles per hour.

    History

    The muskox is believed to have migrated from Siberia to North America across a land bridge where the Bering Strait now resides, around 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. Their numbers were once much more widespread and diverse, but they are now restricted to the uppermost areas of North America. Today, muskoxen are occasionally domesticated for their meat, milk, and wool, which is highly prized.

    Present Status

    Muskoxen are a species of “Least Concern”. They were previously in danger of being overhunted, but protections put in place have led to recovery and there are currently estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000 muskoxen in the wild today. Of the two varieties, the barren ground muskox is the less common, numbering around 5,000.

    References

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muskox

    2. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/m/musk-ox/

    3. Princeton Field Guides - Bovids of the World: Antelopes, Gazelles, Cattle, Goats, Sheep, and Relatives; Jose R. Castello, 2016.

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